The Tea Party's "Anti-intellectual" attitude

The leftist intellectual elite has been suffering a lot of pushback recently and it has developed an explanation which really comes as no surprise . . . the masses, you see, just ain’t very smart. In an effort to put this somewhat more politely, many of these elitists often speak in terms of an “anti-intellectual” attitude that is pandemic among the tea partiers and other rabble-rousers. Of course, a backhanded insult is just as bad as an explicit one and calling people stupid isn’t exactly the best way of getting their votes. To overcome this obstacle, the theory is usually further refined by noting that this “anti-intellectual” mindset really isn’t the fault of the peasants themselves. Rather, manipulative charlatans (i.e. conservatives) have planted and nurtured this mindset so as to facilitate a more efficient exploitation of the masses and their fears.

The sad news for the left is that this theory is simply not true, either in its rudest and most explicit form or its politest and most forgiving version. The really horrifying thing for the leftist intelligentsia is that these ignorant and misguided peasants are precisely the exact opposite of stupid. They are perfectly intelligent and, even worse, they are becoming more and more informed by the moment. This is revealed by the audacious and abominable things that these people are doing . . . things like reading the Constitution for themselves.

But simply dismissing the charge of anti-intellectualism may not be the best response, even though it is a wholly accurate one. The danger of mere dismissal stems from the fact that the left’s domination of the educational system, along with the popular media and culture, has allowed its agents to write their own definition of what constitutes “intelligence”. This definition, in turn, has been widely used as the standard for assigning merit in the form of everything from grades to social status to political power to bureaucratic authority. In this context, the uprising that is now occurring can be viewed as a very appropriate reaction to this self-anointed authority. People who think in terms of “common sense” or “classical reasoning” are objecting to both the validity of the left’s definition of intelligence and its authority to impose the definition on others. The left, for its part, is obviously rather offended by this infringement of the commoners into what is supposed to be its exclusive domain.

To get a grip on the details of this conflict and to further explore the leftist definition of “intelligence”, it is helpful to consider the means by which human beings come to believe ideas. For the sake of simplicity, we can summarize this as a three-step process. First, the idea is received by the audience. Second, it is scrutinized via reasoning. Third, if reasoning shows the idea to be valid, then it is accepted as true. However, if the idea is in conflict with reasoning, then some sort of reconciliation must occur between the idea and reasoning before the idea can be accepted.

Now this brings us immediately to the stark difference between the classical, or “common sense”, definition of intelligence (as embraced by the masses) and the more enlightened or sophisticated definition (as embraced by the leftist intelligentsia). In the event of a conflict between reasoning and the idea at hand, classical thinking demands that the idea must be reconciled so as to conform to reasoning. The leftist intelligentsia, on the other hand, clearly believes that it is reasoning which must yield to an Approved Idea in the case of a conflict.

At first, this may sound like ideological rhetoric or a badly exaggerated smear which is aimed at people with whom I disagree. But the reality is that this is simply an objective statement of fact that is overwhelmingly supported by empirical evidence. When the left applies its ideas in the form of real world policies, it can be shown time and time again that they do not work. Keynesian economics has failed time and time again, yet the solution to economic problems is more Keynesian economics. There is a clear inverse correlation between violence and legal gun ownership, yet the leftist response to violence remains an insistence that we need to more sharply restrict legal gun ownership. The downtrodden are flooded with handouts by the bucketful and this serves to mire the majority of them in a permanent position of multi-generational squalor while drowning a few in addiction, crime or mental illness. In response, the liberal screams for more and bigger buckets. More spending and more technology do not correlate with improved education, yet the ongoing leftist solution to the embarrassing performance of American students as a whole is to pour more money and more computers into the educational system. Reason shouts “these ideas do not work!” Yet the left returns to them time and time again.

If Sir Isaac Newton had an idea of gravitation which consistently failed to correctly account for the motion of bodies, he would surely have abandoned his idea and retained his reasoning. Albert Einstein refused to do this once and threw in a fudge factor to make his reasoning fit to his idea. When hindsight revealed this for the folly that it was, he called it the biggest blunder of his career. If a particularly slow-witted fellow had the idea that it was safe to smoke cigarettes while using gasoline to clean paint brushes, even he would probably concede, after having started himself on fire for the second or third time, that reasoning should trump the idea. The left, in contrast, clearly takes the opposite view and holds its ideas as inherently superior to reasoning itself. Time and time again, the ideas fail and reason bellows “this does not work!” But, time and time again, reason is met with a deaf ear and the idea is embraced even more firmly than before. More Keynesian economics, more gun control, more buckets of handouts and more deluges of money and computers are proposed as the only solutions to the ongoing (and usually worsening) problems.

Unfortunately, the arrogant peasants are now seeing this for what it is. So far as the leftist elite is concerned, “intelligence” is defined in terms of a person’s ability to ingest an approved set of ideas, accept them immediately and then spew them back reflexively to the satisfaction of The Official Leftist Review Panel. The person who is able to do this with particularly noteworthy eloquence may be classified as a genius, even if he has no other real qualifications or redeeming values. When the left finds an individual who can regurgitate both eloquently and flexibly by garnering “A’s” from ivy-league professors whilst simultaneously appealing to plumbers and housewives . . . well, mind you, such a fellow is bound for very high places indeed. Unfortunately, while the left has been admiring its own “intelligence” in the mirror, the rest of the country has been developing an attitude which is decidedly very “anti-intellectual”, at least so far as this silliness is concerned.

Among the Founders, one who can occasionally get accolades from the left is Thomas Jefferson. They are periodically fond of him because of quotes such as “Question with boldness even the existence of a God”. They usually fail to mention the entire quote, which invokes the merit of reason twice in the course of two sentences and notes that God himself (if he exists) would approve of homage to reason: “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”
In many arenas and in many respects, the left has long enjoyed considerable authority to define reality in its own image and this has often included license with respect to defining the meaning of intelligence itself. In that endeavor, the intelligentsia may disagree with Jefferson. But the common man apparently does not. People are discovering not only the arrogance of this self-appointed authority, but its sheer vacuity as well. They’ve peered into the ivory towers and, instead of finding philosophers engaged in deep muse about vital matters far beyond their ability to understand, they’ve found the banquet at a Roman orgy and discovered that intellectual merit is viewed in terms of one’s ability to eat ravenously from the menu of Approved Ideas and then vomit with eloquence. The intelligentsia is obviously very concerned (as well as very offended) . . . and it should be. The potentially devastating consequences of this audacious window-peeping could go far beyond the confines of a merely “political” loss of power.